Workac gives a new lease of life to Houston
WORKac's dramatic new addition and renovation of the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, Texas opened to the public this week. The opening was celebrated with a twenty-year survey dedicated to influential American sculptor Tony Feher. The Museum was completed in association with Gensler Houston as local architect, Matrix Structural Engineers, Shah Smith MEP Engineers and Wade Getz Civil Engineers.
Founded in 1973, the Blaffer Art Museum is a preeminent contemporary art museum without a permanent collection set in the midst of University of Houston's central campus. With high-profile exhibitions that are free and open to the public, as well as extensive educational programs, the museum has the potential to act as a gateway between the university and the city.
Before the renovation, the museum's visibility and identity were compromised by its hidden entrance which was only accessible only through an internal courtyard. Within, the galleries were constantly battling with the circulation systems where stairways stood in the middle of two galleries and another only accessible by a hallway through the administrative offices.
The project represents an important shift in the approach to museum design in the postrecession age. In order to concentrate only on their core missions, the Blaffer and the University of Houston engaged WORKac to strategically rethink the building's existing features. WORKac's design gives the museum striking presence and public connectivity through a series of imaginative and economical interventions to the building's facade, circulation patterns and exterior spaces.
As a result the previously blank north side of the building has been opened up with the addition of a new entrance pavilion. The projecting volume reveals a new grand staircase that reroutes all of the problematic circulation routes away from the centre of the building. The outwards movement towards the exterior façades provide street-level views of the museum's interior activities, whilst also allowing for the expansion and diversification of the gallery spaces. A new entrance zone with a café will become a commons area that connects the front pavilion with the back courtyard, allowing the public to freely move between city and campus via the museum.
As a result of being unable to afford a cantilever, WORKac invented the "wallumn," a triangular concrete wall that acts as a column whilst placing a visual emphasis on the new entry space. In addition the existing rear courtyard will also receive an upgrade, which will provide a flexible and dynamic setting for a continuous program of music, film screenings and other art-related events. New landscaping throughout the exterior area, conceived in partnership with SCAPE Landscape Architects, gives the museum an invigorated sense of place and adds to the dynamic experience of the pedestrian users.